At Europe's leading startup event Slush, one of the main issues up for debate was how we can live better lives over the next hundred years. Unsurprisingly, health was one of the main topics.
The battle for trust has inspired some memorable sayings in many languages. In French they say that “trust is earned in single drops and lost in litres”; in English we say that “trust takes years to build, seconds to break and forever to repair.”
E-health is no exception to this rule and the battle for trust can be seen in the figures. A recent survey by Paris-based global market research company Ipsos found that 43% of all French people polled use a wellness app on their communications device – i.e. smartphone, tablet or connected watch – but their level of trust in the technologies involved scored between 4.6 and 5.2 out of 10. How to explain these poor figures? There is still no quality label or guarantee for such tools, nor any trusted bond such as you have for example with your doctor, your local healthcare system or your insurance company.
Representatives of smartphone manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and mobile app developers all got together on stage at the Slush event held in Helsinki on 30 November - 1 December to talk about the future of healthcare. IoT, Quantified Self, empowerment, AI, gamification, and of course big data were on everyone’s lips…in the same breath as trust. During a round table on the future of connected heath, everyone agreed on the important role played by the doctor – a guarantee of trust for patients – and also stressed the need to reassure people about data privacy.
Doctors – standard-bearers of trust in e-health
During the round table discussion, Marcus Gners, COO of Stockholm-based digital health startup Lifesum, reminded everyone of the importance of the professional medical practitioner among all these new tools. Data generated by connected objects can add value and help to improve your health overall, but will not replace your doctor. “At the present time, we only see a doctor when we’re ill. The quality of data that can be gathered could improve a patient’s experience considerably. But the data, even if it has qualitative aspects, doesn’t have the wealth of experience a doctor has. It’s not a matter of replacing doctors but rather of collaborating with them,” he argued.
One way of reassuring patients is to draw directly on the expertise of healthcare specialists when developing a new technology tool. A concrete example of this was presented by Ida Tin, co-founder and CEO of Berlin-based technology company BioWink GmbH – which markets a female health app called Clue – who took part in the Slush round table. While developing her app she worked with renowned research institutes including at Standford University, Columbia University, and the University of Oxford. Her mobile app, which calculates and predicts the user's menstrual period, fertility window and premenstrual syndrome, was developed in direct collaboration with health professionals.
The data privacy issue
Also on the agenda was the issue of data privacy, a subject on which e-health companies have frequently been taken to task. Kemal Malik, a member of the Board of Bayer AG, talked about genome sequencing, a telling example of successful collaboration between science and technology which enables data to be collected, analysed and shared. Nevertheless, when he talks about genome editing or methods of modifying defective DNA, people automatically ask what could go wrong and wonder about the ethical issues that might arise from analysing and sharing such data.
So it was probably no coincidence that the winning startup at this year’s Slush 100 pitching competition was a Paris-based startup called CybelAngel, which specialises in cybersecurity. Whatever the figures say, and despite some people’s doubts and hesitations, many other indicators are now showing green and there is plenty of evidence that the e-health market is faring well.
Connected health market is doing fine
A report by California-based Grand View Research published earlier this year indicates that there are 73 million connected health devices in use worldwide in 2016 and predicts that this figure will rise to 161 million by 2020. The report also forecasts that the worldwide connected health market will be worth $410 billion in 2022. Nokia Chairman Risto Siilasmaa also attended the event, proof positive of just how important the e-health market is. Opening a Slush round table, he stressed that “there’s nothing more important than health. There’s no doubt that this is the place to go, the place to invest.” Mr Siilasmaa thus confirmed the return of the Finnish electronic device manufacturing giant to the mobile scene and the IoT health market, a strategy on which Nokia Corporation embarked a few months ago when it bought French connected health device creator Withings. And further evidence of this alliances strategy emerged when Ida Tin announced on stage that Nokia Growth Partners were investing $20 million in the mobile app in a Series B funding round. Mobile players seem now to have grasped the old truth that ‘there is strength in unity’ – and not least in the highly promising connected health market.